On July 14, 1915, the Liberty Bell -- one of the United States’ foremost symbols of freedom and independence -- visits Everett, Seattle, and Tacoma en route to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. The bell traveled the country by train, greeting throngs of joyous well-wishers in towns along the way. The crowds in Washington state are no exception.
Bells and Whistles
Beginning in the late 1800s, the Liberty Bell was often displayed at exhibitions throughout the country as a way to heal the rift caused by the Civil War. By the 1900s, concerns were raised over transporting around by train the already cracked bell. The 1915 tour, which began on July 4, would be the bell's last. It has remained in Philadelphia ever since it returned.
The trip west took it straight across the Midwest, then north to Idaho and into Washington. The Liberty Bell went to Everett, and from there to Seattle. Crowds in Everett were so immense that the trip to Seattle was delayed by almost an hour, so that everyone could get a glimpse.
As the train arrived in Seattle, all the airhorns downtown and all the ships’ whistles in Elliott Bay blasted out as one. Permission was given to ring the old University Bell, located at 2nd Avenue and Union Street near the Bon Marché. The crowds roared. The din in Seattle was nearly deafening.
Once in a Lifetime
The Liberty Bell train pulled into King Street Station at 9:39 a.m. Five coaches festooned with red, white, and blue bunting were followed by a flatcar carrying the bell in open air for all to see. The bell rested on a massive wooden sawhorse, surrounded by four guards.
After the train stopped, 13 women dressed in colonial costumes representing the original 13 colonies escorted Seattle Mayor Hi Gill and Chief of Police Louis M. Lang aboard the flatcar. The car was moved onto a spur track at Occidental Avenue and King Street for viewing.
Marine bands played, and wreaths, flowers, and miniature flags were thrown onto the flatcar. The crowd pressed forward. Some cried out in joy while others wept. A frail elderly couple, fighting their way to the front of the crowd, were escorted through and hoisted up onto the flatcar to see the bell up close. They kissed its weathered surface, knelt, and said a prayer. Afterwards, they were seen with “a radiant glow on their faces, indicating that one of the ambitions of their lives had been satisfied” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
From Sea to Shining Sea
As throngs continued to congregate around the bell, services were moved to city hall park. Once there, the crowd heard speeches by Mayor Gill and Louis Hutt, a Philadelphia city councilman representing Mayor Rudolph Blankenburg, who was too ill to travel.
Dr. Carter Helm Jones, pastor of the First Baptist church, addressed the gathering, telling the history of the Liberty Bell, and its power as a national symbol. Referring to the war in Europe, he cautioned against jingoism and ill-timed militarism, and urged listeners instead to “teach our children a still sweeter and nobler doctrine of patriotism.”
At the end of the ceremonies, a 21-gun-salute was fired, followed by a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, sung by Mrs. Joseph R. Manning. The flatcar and bell were brought back to King Street Station to continue the trip south. Soon after leaving Seattle, the Liberty Bell arrived in Tacoma at 4:00 p.m., where it was greeted with the same joy and excitement as had occurred earlier in the day, and throughout the nation.